Is Greenpeace's prank on Shell oil a 'scam'?

GreenpeaceElectionsPoliticsUpstream Oil and Gas ActivitiesCNN (tv network)Satire (genre)Erin Burnett

If there's an official ranking for snarkiness, Greenpeaceand the Yes Lab have got to be near the top this summer. Their snarky social media mash-up takes Greenpeace's campaign against Shell Arctic drilling to a whole new level.

It's a fake Shell website that encourages supporters to create ads that mock Shell's offshore drilling effort and to sign an anti-drilling petition.

Greenpeace teamed up with Yes Lab in June to create the fake website.

No matter which side you favor regarding offshore Alaska oil drilling, watching this fight is just plain fascinating.  Just make sure you get out of the way when the fur starts flying.

The Greenpeace/Yes Lab social media campaign clearly points to a strategy to succeed in a cacophonous Internet where it's increasingly harder to be heard and credibility is often called into question.

Although Shell is none too happy, calling the campaign a "scam," Greenpeace says it has received no legal action from Shell nor threats of legal action.

Here's a sample of these mocking fake Shell ads:

"Unfortunately, we won't be able to take these icebergs with us to hell. Let's go."

You may remember Yes Lab - and the Yes Men, anti-corporate hoaxers who were the subject of a 2003 documentary.

In June, Greenpeace and Yes Lab staged a fake party at Seattle's Space Needle made to look like a botched celebration for Shell. Viral video from the event also raised a lot of eyebrows.

"Just in case there is any remaining doubt, Shell did not host, nor participate in an event at the Space Needle," the oil company said in its statement. "The video does not involve Shell or any of its employees."

Asked whether the Greenpeace site is libelous, media officer Travis Nichols says it's "obviously satire" intended as "identity correction" of Shell's own pro-drilling information campaign.  "We are taking the facts of what they're doing and putting it in a straightforward way - obviously using humor."

If this sounds a bit familiar, a fake Twitter account called BPGlobalPR became a short-lived social media darling after 2010's Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Here are some of BPGlobalPR's greatest hits.

But what responsibilities - if any - do advocacy groups have to keep their online debates credible, authoritative, fair and above-board? Is satire - or even outright deception - a more powerful tool for winning hearts and minds? Or does blowback from that strategy pose too big a risk for an embarrassing PR disaster?

In a written statement, Shell encourages a "spirit of intelligent debate" about a "serious topic."

(This fake Shell ad was posted on arcticready.com)

Here's why: The stakes are high - 27 billion barrels high.

That's how much oil the U.S. government estimates might be in the region, and that's what's got Shell spending billions to get at it.

In her series "Cold Wars," CNN's "OutFront With Erin Burnett" takes a deep dive into the Alaska offshore drilling controversy in a series of reports from the Arctic Circle airing at 7 p.m. ET today.

CNN commenter Jared Woody welcomes Shell's drilling efforts. "As an Alaskan, I can tell you that many support oil exploration up here. Oil has kept our economy stable while the Lower 48 has tanked."

Nope, drilling off Alaska is too risky, says CNN.com commenter Thomas Fox. "There are too many viable energy alternatives available now rather than to risk another BP Horizon-type catastrophe in one of the last pristine places left."

University of Minnesota law expert William McGeveran told Forbes that the law surrounding fake websites is "murky," but traditionally Shell "would have a pretty good case."

For what it's worth, Greenpeace offers an official description of its tactics on its website.

It says Greenpeace promotes "informed debate" and the use of "high-profile, non-violent conflict to raise the level and quality of public debate."

Does its fake website fall under that description? "We think it does," says Nichols.

Does Greenpeace want to apologize if anyone was fooled into thinking the website was an authentic Shell site? Nichols didn't offer an apology when asked. "I think people will take it the way they want to take it."

"What we’re finding is that people who thought it was real and then discovered that Greenpeace and the Yes Men were behind it are overwhelmingly positive about the campaign."

Shell says, "we care that people are not deceived," in its statement.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace says it's over the moon about its new strategy. From Monday through Wednesday of this week, it says arcticready.com  has racked up nearly 800,000 page views. The anti-drilling petition has grown to more than 10,000 signatures, Nichols says.

What social media tactics are next for the merry online pranksters of Greenpeace and Yes Lab?

"Right now, there are a few things in the works, but I'm not going to be able to tell you about them," Nichols says. "The aspect of surprise is important."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Comments
Loading